THE RELUCTANT ENFORCER OF CIRCUMCISION
Updated: Apr 3
The Luo woman has never been thoroughly examined on the issue of male genital circumcision. I mean her role. And her role should be examined because the Luo woman has proven to be the main overseer of Luo ethnic purity in many instances. The existing vestiges of Luo marital rituals, for example, are visible thanks to the uncompromising role of the Luo woman. That could be as a result the final cell of a clan being the woman's house, nono for example. Or it could be because of tutoring value values attached to the mother (ofuwo ka min slur) Why is the Luo woman so unconcerned with the male genital circumcision politics? In fact, I can go as far as evidencing that the Luo woman discourages and frustrates male circumcision discussion. Is it because the Luo woman’s fear that the ritual will be self-defeating as it will open her closed playing field to external competition. Or does the Luo woman fear that, the eagerness of the Luo man to circumcise is an open invitation that the Luo man is ready to treat a new hungry and aggressive audience. Or maybe the Luo woman’s reluctance is borne out of other unselfish interest. In any case the enforcer reluctance is nothing to do with the political stance. Yet the main focus or thrust of male genital circumcision politics which happens to be only in a small part of Kenya should be the Luo woman’s jurisdiction. Why do I say so?
First Lady Sally Mugabe.
The closest I have is the late Sally Mugabe’s sermon. I have high regard for this lady and I quote her a lot that she had to say in her speeches. In one of the speeches delivered to Women Decade Conference Sally had this to say. “Where were the white Zimbabwean women when their husbands set out to go hunt and kill Zimbabwean Nationalists. Did they ever complain before, after or during the killings?”
I was complete indictment of the white Zimbabwean women. The same could applied to say wives of corrupt Kenyan politicians. Where are you when your husband is stealing the life of Kenya. Do you just accept a wedding anniversary or shopping spree trip to London? And by extension the Kenyan woman whose husband, brother or father is spewing circumcision politics can be held into account for that as well. And that is how I arrive at the perceived silence of the Luo woman in circumcision politics. Only that the Luo woman in my opinion is actively resisting to enforce the circumcision. Apart from the educated middle class.
History of Circumcision politics in Kenya.
The venom has been arrogated to President Moi as the man who drove the politics of circumcision in Kenya. I beg to differ. President Moi and Kalenjin are very clean in this matter. My generation is better placed to say something about this.
I was born in the Rift Valley before Independence and lived my pre-teen life in a very melting pot of Kikuyus, Kalenjins and Luos. The earliest I know of circumcision makes very interesting reading.
During the Mau Mau freedom fighters purge, tribal marks was the saviour when Kikuyus were being rounded up. So any male with 6 lower teeth missing passed the identity parade. With zero teeth missing the search intensifies especially if the hair was unkempt. This is because the 6 lower teeth extraction was the tribal mark of the Luos who were so removed from the frontline and stood zero chance of being recruited except for rogue cases of Luos who sneaked to join the fight or offered to sabotage the white man by telegraphing information and transporting the arms. As kids we heard in whispers tales of how the missing six lower teeth saved so and so.
Then around that period of independence circumcision was associated with being heathen among the Kikuyus as far as I can remember. There was a circumcision song that as kids we could mime loudly but would be scolded by parents because it was taken as an insult by Kikuyus. It was as if you were accusing them of being Mau mau to be ostracised. If you were caught singing it in school, you would be punished. It was the equivalent to calling a Kikuyu Mau Mau by then. Mau Mau was not very popular word and even many senior politicians denied and disowned it. But that is another story. My Kikuyu is poor because I am trying to recall a song of the 1962. “Gitandamuka muratha, Gitanda muka”. And Kikuyu boys never sang the song. Even today you would be very close to a Kikuyu to sing that song. It is the equivalent of a white friend using the N word next to an African America. From what I am told, it was a chant during the ritual asking the initiates to sit astride. I could be wrong and I am not interested in finding out. So as a Luo boy growing up in Rift Valley, the foreskin removal had a false start.
Then in my preteen, it became clear that male circumcision was a taboo used to make any girl seen being sorted by a non-Luo a pariah. And just like in racism. A Luo girl who dared to cross and marry a circumcised person must be convince herself that this is forever. There was no coming back once you choose with a circumcised person. Many Luo women who had wondered outside the tribe to banter with service young men in administrative centres led a very lonely life. There escape route was to move far away to settle. Young Luo men would not just touch such rebounds from non Luos whether from Africans or Europeans. And in a way that was a plus because it made Luo Luhya or Luo Kisii marriages very stable producing excelling children. You can see in the roster of who is who in the inter-tribal catchment areas or Butere, Samia, Bunyala, Nyamira.
And this appears to be the stalemate of the circumcision politics even in 1969. It was the Luo men who were the aggressor in matters of scorned lovers. But where the non-Luo actually married the Luo girl, the Luo men had no issues. This well evidenced in many mixed tribal marriages, recorded music, naming between Luos, Kisiis, Luhyas etc. It was purely cultural
When 1969 Oathings came along in those vehicles marked Kanu Private, it was not about circumcision drive. It was about keeping the presidency away from Luos. And even Kamba community were roped in but Kisii community, Luhya community and other coastal people who also practice circumcision were excluded. So male circumcision was not the impetus for oathing. If anything the Samias and Manyalas, Maragolis and other Luhyas groups took an active part in exposing it. Not least the Kisii who could recall their loss in the Lari Massacre.
During the very moment of Kanu Private lift to Gatundu, in Jomo Kenyatta’s household, in Gatundu, Jomo Kenyatta’s daughter was prepping a come-we-stay marriage with a Dr George Owino Rakula of North Ugenya, Wahu, the cousin to Kenyattas first wife was married to later detainee Wasonga Sijeyo. So once again it is the Luo man who was blowing hot and cold and using the circumcision card when it suited him.
After 1969, the word Kahii took root but as a peer pressure and to identify who discriminate in resource accumulation, houses accumulation, job hunting, government scholarship awards. Kahii became an easy dog-whistling word but not because Vice President Moi drove it. In case the double circumcised Kalenjin community were under the cosh more than Luos.
Even when President Moi was in power, circumcision only became an issue when fighting over state issues. Otherwise prostitutes in Mombasa were killing each other regularly over uncircumcised white men (Sandstrom case). It was not an issue when President Moi government was being removed. It was not an issue 2002 in Kibaki Tosha campaign. So to arrogate it to President Moi and Kalenjin community, the British is not only wrong but unfair. It will be and has always been a dog-whistling for one’s tribe to attack the other tribe when resource fighting is at play. And I can guarantee that it will cease after 2022.
Culture is very powerful.
The first real encounter of Luos with circumcision go the earlier arrivals on the shores of Lake Victoria. When Matara son of Sakwa, son of Kabaka arrived in Kenya, he found descendants of their uncle Wanga circumcising like Muslims. That was the impetus for Matara to distance himself from Wanga by fleeing all the way to Alego to reunite with Ramogi Ajwang’ son of Podho the Luo ancestor.
A similar flight by AbaUyoma from Musanda area was to distance themselves from strange customs including circumcision, even if AbaUyoma was expelled because of the ills of Ong’ong’o, their son.
Folklore is also told of Kano men encounter with the deadly Sidho men whose witchcraft of making warriors belly balloon the day before combat were dreaded. However, the Kano women conquered the many Bantu men there by resisting their advances unless they proved not to be circumcised. The other one was Luo women’s derision of anybody wearing a kilt to cover their genitals as if to hide that they were circumcised. And as late as World War I, tales are told of President Obama ancestor who came back with a penchant for wearing trousers or coast like garments to cover the underneath as if they were hiding having been cut. And this is not all. In early 1970s, if you were a boy and you were afraid to shower with other boys at the river, it was assumed that you had no foreskin. And that is not any information you want the ladies to suspect you of. Again we see the Luo women as the enforcer of the Luo culture.
So why have Luo women persisted with enforcing this ethnic purity. It is to say that it is siege mentality. Many college going Luo women recount ordeals at college days. Very few talk of college with nostalgia. Their story is that once you step in college, there is a scram for Luo men and when they turn around they find themselves alone. This scenario is repeated even after college when Luo catches are cherry-picked elsewhere. Logically in the Luo woman’s reasoning, encouraging Luo men to circumcise is just turning them into easing to reach hanging fruits. There recourse is therefore to maintain ethnic purity and benefit from safety in numbers. A siege mentality.
Christian Luo women
Even for those urban Luos who are forced to accept it to save the boys from peer pressure and residential school bullying there is help in scriptures that they could draw upon if they want.
In the Old Testament, circumcision is clearly defined as a covenant between God and the Jewish males. It was enjoyed upon the biblical patriarch Abraham, his descendants and their slaves as a 'token of the covenant' concluded with him by God for all generations an 'everlasting covenant' Genesis 17. Thus it is commonly observed by Judaism and Islam of the Abrahamic Religions. Circumcision is not laid down as a requirement in the New Testament. Instead Christians are urged to be circumcised in the heart by trusting in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross Ephesians 2:11 ' Therefore remember that formerly you were circumcised by what men do to their bodies and you were apart from Christ. You were foreigners and did not belong to God's chosen people. You had no part in the covenants which were based on God's promises to his people, and you lived in this world without hope and without God. But now in Union with Christ Jesus, you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Jesus but not by circumcision'. That is the works done on the flesh. Colossians 3:11, " As a result, there is no longer any distinction between Gentiles and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarians, savages, slaves, and free, but Chris is all, Christ is all.
However, even though the mythical advantages of Circumcision is now rubbished, it has remained powerful enshrined by culture because culture is very powerful. A topographical map of circumcision is nothing but water scarcity habitats. So just as a practising Kikuyu woman has to compromise to let culture reign over her Christian faith so is a Luo woman who is reluctant to enforce the circumcision politics in privacy or in public. When cornered she acts the opposite way and stands by her culture to protect the Luo man.
Ka ot otami rito-
Luos are 55% Christians and 110% Luos because Culture is very powerful. More powerful than Christianity. If that is so why would a Luo woman not take proactive position of fighting back. I personally believe its cultural. The ultimate insult to any Luo woman anywhere is ka ot otami rito to wuog arit ni. It translates to if you are incapable of housekeeping then you need help. Any acknowledgement on her part to defend her cultural values public would amount to taking the fight in one area she does not want the fight. The domestic front. I believe it is for this reason the Luo woman will not defend the circumcision openly but reluctantly refuse to enforce it. Her stand is known by her refusal to preach it. And her basic scoff is who is the complainant if she is not complaining.